It was announced last weekend that Mike Scott will miss 4-6 weeks (the remainder of the regular season, possibly into the beginning of the NBA playoffs) with a broken toe on his left foot. Thabo Sefolosha is close to returning from a calf strain that he suffered January 30th against Portland. The Hawks don’t plan on bringing back 10-day contract signee Jarell Eddie and instead have signed Austin Daye to the same short-term deal.
Coach Mike Budenholzer has been resting starters on a game-by-game basis, preparing for a run deep into the playoffs. They seem content on using the players they have and not any major outside help, as shown with the silent trade deadline last month.
But with all of this talk of injuries and sitting starters, don’t you still feel good about these Hawks?
Compared to last season, the Hawks are a completely different squad – except for the fact that they really aren’t. Sure, they signed Kent Bazemore and the aforementioned Sefolosha. Yeah, they’ve had time to gel and find more of a rhythm in Coach Bud’s offense. Sure, they are winning games at a much higher clip this season. But, the biggest change this season – something that seemed so great earlier on in the year – was the health.
Here they are, sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference on the ides of March and they have had only had one major injury to this Mike Scott announcement. Look at the rest of the conference – the rest of the league, for that matter – and you see key players going down.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were without LeBron for eight games at the turn of the new calendar year. Kevin Love has been in and out of the lineup with back issues. The Raptors missed DeMar DeRozan during the month of December. The Pistons lost Brandon Jennings for the season to an Achilles injury. Blake Griffin was out of the Clippers’ lineup for a little over a month. Wesley Matthews is no longer a factor for the Trail Blazers due to a season-ending torn Achilles. Paul George hasn’t played for the Pacers this season due to the gruesome leg injury suffered while playing for Team USA last summer.
I could go on for a while. Injuries are a part of sports. It’s sad that they are, but it’s true. You have to be able to deal with adversity to contend for an NBA title.
On January 3rd, 2011, the Dallas Mavericks lost starting forward Caron Butler to a knee injury. He would miss the rest of the season. King of the franchise Dirk Nowitzki had a sprained right knee that bothered him for most of the holiday season. A friend of mine (here in Texas, mind you) was a huge Mavs fan. He was confident that the team would be able to contend for the title. We would talk about their games against former Longhorn LaMarcus Aldridge in Round 1. Then the sweep of the Kobe’s in Round 2. Then about their series win over OKC and another former Longhorn in Kevin Durant. Then, their handling of the Miami Heat in six games to win the NBA Finals. My friend was ecstatic.
As a Hawks fan, I was jealous. That was the year we finally beat Dwight and the Magic in the first round. We made it to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals and beat the Bulls in Game One. We had hope. We had a chance. An injury to Kirk Hinrich changed all that as Derrick Rose – MVP version – tore us up in the five games that followed.
Flashforward one year later to 2012. Al Horford goes down in early January with a pectoral tear. Season seemingly over. He came back in the playoffs – which he later said was a poor decision – and played decently, but the Hawks fell to Boston in six games.
Last season, Horford tears the other pectoral. Pero Antic was broken man for what seemed like the rest of the season after Horford went down. Elton Brand was our post presence. Not exactly the help we were looking for.
The past few years has taught the Atlanta Hawks several things. First of all, they learned how to change the culture. These aren’t Joe Johnson’s or Josh Smith’s Hawks anymore – you can tell by all of the “fickle bandwagoners” that go to the games now, according to J-Smoove. Second, they learned that injuries are far from preventable and they can ruin your season if you aren’t prepared to deal with them.
The Hawks might be losing a valuable member of their bench in Mike Scott, but I think that this sets the table for a well-disciplined team “sprint” to the playoffs. Health is something of great importance to these players, as told to me by assassin – and well-documented training fanatic – Kyle Korver. Back in late December he stressed the importance of taking time to ignore the drag of the season and keep his body in tip-top condition. “Shooting slumps happen, but you just have to stay positive. When you have a bunch of games and things going on, I spend a day to get my body back together and get right. That’s the biggest thing for me,” said the starting 2-guard. “When I feel healthy and feel strong, I usually shoot better.”
Coach Bud is certainly following the same mindset by allowing starters to recuperate on one side of a back-to-back, such as when three starters rested in Los Angeles last night on the first game of a back-to-back. The “next man up” mentality that this shows is what these Hawks are all about.
In regards to the injury to Mike Scott, the only positive is that it came at a time where his recovery should finish by the time the playoffs begin. This seems like an opportunity for improvement – both mentally and physically – for Scott. I, for one, am disappointed that the Hawks are losing a valuable and exciting piece of their second unit. However, I’m thrilled to see how these new Hawks we keep talking about (you know, the one’s that are supposed to be like the Spurs, maybe you’ve seen people make connections) react to the problem. Will they roll over and have opponents find the holes in their armor or will they fight back, using the sum of their parts to be greater than the original whole?
If this impressive season has told us anything so far, it’s to start trusting these Hawks even when the injury bug tries to bite.